A storm uprooted a tree on McMorran Way in Saanich Thursday sending the tree toppling onto the roof of a the neighbours house. (Arnold Lim/Black Press)

BC Hydro outages surge 265 per cent in four years

Climate change to blame for significant rise in damage, extreme weather events: report

Recent findings from B.C. Hydro and Insurance Bureau of Canada appear almost prophetic through the prism of last week’s windstorm that battered the region.

Published in the middle of November, a report from B.C. Hydro found power outages have surged thanks to climate change. According to the report, the customers without power during major storm events has increased by about 265 per cent to 1.18 million in 2017 from 323,000 customers in 2013. Thanks to climate change, storm and extreme weather events are more frequent, severe, and accordingly more damaging to the provincial grid.

RELATED: Thousands still without power after storm rips through southern B.C.

Fast forward to Dec. 20, when Greater Victoria and other parts of the province experienced what B.C. Hydro called “one of the most devastating storms” in the past 20 years. The storm, according to B.C. Hydro, impacted some 600,000 customers at its height and tens of thousands across the province remained in the dark Monday.

“I know any power outage is an inconvenience and can present challenges – and even more so at this time of year,” said Chris O’Riley, president and chief operating officer, in a message to customers, in underscoring the significance of the storm. “On behalf of BC Hydro, I would like to thank our customers for their continued patience. We are doing everything we can to get all of our customers back on and our crews will work around-the-clock until we have every last customer connected.”

RELATED: High winds cause transportation delays across Vancouver Island

READ MORE: Thousands of BC Hydro customers without power in Greater Victoria

B.C. Hydro notes in its report that 95 per cent of customers see their power restored within 24 hours following a major event in 2017 – up from 92 per cent in 2013.

Despite various measures, outages are a reality, subject to unpredictable factors, such as length and severity in asking residents to prepare themselves.

“This is why it is important for British Columbians to be prepared with a well-stocked emergency kit that includes: a flashlight, extra batteries, first aid kit, blanket or warm clothing, ready-to-eat non-perishable food and water,” the report reads.

READ ALSO: One person dead after tree falls in B.C. storm

The Insurance Bureau of Canada offered a similar narrative earlier this year.

Speaking before B.C.’s select standing committee of finance and government services in late September, Aaron Sutherland of the Insurance Bureau of Canada said British Columbians might be more prone to the financial and non-financial effects of climate change than other Canadians.

“As our climate is changing, we’re seeing warmer, wetter winters and hotter, drier summers,” he said. “Nowhere in this country is this more true than right here in British Columbia. We’ve had record wildfire events in the past two or three years, and we’ve also had record flood events in the springs.”

Sutherland said the insurance industry is already feeling the financial effects of climate change (with the unstated implication that residents will feel these effects in their pocket books also through higher insurance premiums).

“As our climate is changing, the insurers are seeing increasing incidents and increasing insured losses as a result of these events,” he said. “Where we used to pay out just a few hundred million dollars every year due to what we call catastrophic losses — which are really losses due to severe storms, floods and wildfires — beginning in 2009, we have had eight con- secutive years of insured payouts for severe weather at or above $1 billion.”

He called on the provincial government to maintain and improve measures against climate change. “These are investments that help improve our land use, that build new flood-resistant infrastructure and that provide for better use of our waterways and natural environment to protect communities at highest risk,” he said.

A report from the provincial auditor released in February 2018 found current measures inadequate.

“Overall, we found the B.C. government is not adequately managing the risks posed by climate change,” said Carol Bellringer. “It is very likely that B.C. will not meet its 2020 emissions reduction target of 33 per cent below 2007 levels, and models suggest the province is not on track to meet the 2050 target.”


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